This chapter nearly killed me. Or turned me into an alcoholic. Luckily I’m too poor to develop a substance abuse problem so I had to finish it in the end. Please read it or else donate to the Emma’s existential crisis on the changing room floor fund.
If you need to catch up on Nathan’s story so far (which is pretty understandable since this has been so long in reaching you) you can read the first few chapters here. alternatively, if you would rather read this as a webpage, it is available here. I seriously hope you like this one, it was only rewritten about five times…
The crowd was infested with restlessness. A hundred conversations droned over Nathan’s head, buzzing like a swarm of cicadas. Trying to regain sensation in aching feet, they shuffled on the spot while the sun beat down at them relentlessly. Nathan tried to ignore the sharp tingling in his shoulders as his skin flared red from capturing the sun’s rays all afternoon.
He stood crammed behind the enormous man Kassie had befriended as they happily exchanged travelling stories. Her excited voice was beginning to grate on Nathan’s nerves as much as the man’s arrogance was. Telling himself he wasn’t jealous, he zoned out their voices and concentrated on breathing through his nose. With his cheek pressed into the giant’s soggy t-shirt, he was offended by stale cigarette smoke and the scent of a man who hadn’t showered in three days. With all his senses assaulted, he was beginning to wonder whether the band was really worth it.
It was as his eyes drifted closed in an attempt to ignore the humidity, constant shoving of those around him and his poor aching feet that he finally felt the air crackle with energy. His eyes snapped open immediately and he joined a thousand strangers twitch their heads to the stage like one large dog who had heard movement far into the distance. Kassie felt it too and finally stopped talking in time for spotlights to blaze across the stage and noise shudder through the earth.
Voices boomed towards the band to clash with the thunderous slam of bass that reverberated through Nathan’s chest. He grasped Kassie’s hand quickly as the crowd surged forward, dragging the couple towards the stage. Not sure if his feet were on the ground any more, they swarmed forward to be crushed against sweaty exulted bodies around them.
Another boom of base and Nathan’s hands were in the air with the others, stretched high as if they could grasp the notes electrifying the world around them. Strangers just moments before, the crowd was now one heaving mass pounding up and down in a frenzy. Nathan’s voice was silenced amongst the whooping, shrieking crowd but still he sung every line word for word.
Above them, the sky melted into a deep blue as afternoon stretched into evening. Nathan spread his fingers wide, grateful for the tiny breath of air the movement gave him. With his head turned upwards he didn’t notice people sucking away from him until he was falling into the sudden space. He gulped in the unexpected pool of oxygen before immediately pushing himself backwards against the shoulders that tried to bar his way. He dug his heels into the dirt, dust flinging to cling against his calves.
Rockers dived into the mosh pit with glee. Nathan raised his arms protectively as Kassie’s new friend surged towards the circle of slamming bodies. Men flung themselves at each other, crashing and rebounding into the wall of people who encircled them. Part of Nathan itched to be among them but knew that by the time he felt brave enough the pit would have collapsed. His eyes followed the braver men enviously when a smaller figure drew his attention, the small girl’s recklessness shocking him as she was happily swept away in the dangerous pot of boiling bodies.
Shock turned to horror as he recognised the blond figure who briefly appeared behind the giants crashing against each other. Only just noticing that his hand was empty, he watched as Kassie flung herself against the enormous strangers with a ferocity that matched their size.
Nathan hovered on the edge, uncertain how to pull her from the throng but knowing that he had to when she fell. Rebounding off someone, she slammed into the ground, narrowly missing a pair of legs that would have trampled her. He screamed her name but no one heard him among the chaos. As he prepared himself to dive in after her, she was pulled up by the man who by the man she had been chatting to her earlier. He brought his head close to hers and yelled something in her ear. Laughing, she dived back into the crush with him as Nathan’s stomach clenched in his jealousy.
Silence hit the crowd as powerfully as any chord had. A breath passed, then the air was consumed once again with roars of appreciation. The pit before him filled with bodies and disappeared as suddenly as it had formed. Towering above the rest, Kassie’s friend spotted Nathan’s unhappy face quickly. His bulk parted the sea of bodies and he guided Kassie back to her boyfriend easily. Nathan watched him without gratitude.
“You should have been in there!” Kassie yelled at him over the boom of the next song.
“Yeah.” Nathan replied and pulled her to stand in front of him, shooting a look of contempt at the back of the giant’s head who was already bellowing lyrics back at the stage.
With Kassie safely pressed against him, the music called to Nathan again, willing him to let go and embrace the melodies pulling at his limbs. Slowly he let the band consume him once more until pulsing, dancing and chanting as one, Nathan jumped in sync with a thousand bodies. Every drumbeat pulsed through his body, setting his veins on fire until he stopped noticing the weight of sweaty strangers pushing against his back or the drag of his bag as it caught and snagged on those around him. He was utterly alone with each swell and break of the band.
Kassie’s favourite song started and dragged him to the present. He opened the eyes he hadn’t realised he’d shut in order to catch Kassie’s and flash her a grin, except she wasn’t there.
Panic chased his enjoyment away as he heard her cry, “Send me up!”
Spinning on the spot, he had enough time to acknowledge the grin on the big man’s face as Kassie placed her foot into his joined hands and wormed her way up his body.
“Kassie!” Nathan barked but it was too late.
A sea of hands raised her effortlessly into the sky. With a serene expression she closed her eyes and threw her arms apart, embracing the sudden freedom. Supported by strangers, she trusted the mass of sweaty exulted humans to hold her as she twisted and lay flat above them. Nathan barely recognised the wild triumph on her face as he watched her glide gracefully away into the pulsing mass of bodies. Then, she was gone.
Nathan stood alone, barged and battered by a field of strangers.
“What the hell, man?” he spat, spinning to face the giant but finding another in his place. The man stood close to Nathan but his eyes were fixed above the crowd following Kassie’s disappearing figure. As Nathan tried to push passed, he slowly dragged his dark eyes to his. Everything about him was wrong. He did not move with the crowd, somehow standing apart from them and avoiding the rogue arms and bodies that surged around him. His long hair was tied into a neat ponytail that should have fallen loose around his shoulders by now.
Nathan watched Kassie’s friend drift deeper into the crowd, his voice somehow booming above everyone else’s. Determined to shut the voice up, Nathan again tried to move passed the man blocking his path until he finally noticed he was speaking.
“What?” Nathan yelled at him before deciding he didn’t care, “Oh just move!”
Pushing at the man with all his weight, he finally gave way and Nathan stumbled heavily passed him and into the giant’s back. The big man hardly moved but glanced down at Nathan’s red face in irritation.
“What the hell did you do that for?” he yelled again, feeling his voice break with the strain.
The man shrugged, “She wanted to go up, chill out man.”
Anger possessed Nathan’s arms as the man turned away dismissively. With all his strength he slammed into the giant’s side with a force that surprised him. The man merely stumbled but it was enough. His bulk barged into another in front of him and then the force was knocking through the crowd like a line of dominoes.
Nathan had seconds to realise what he had done before the crowd evaporated away from him. He stood alone in the centre of the mosh pit he had formed and watched in horror as a hoard of giants ran towards him.
The gig ended for Nathan with a bloody nose, aching ribs and no girlfriend. As the final song climaxed with a volley of pyrotechnics, Nathan had already joined the throng of sweaty, spent individuals beginning to drift away from the stage. Struggling against the current of people forcing their way closer to the front, Nathan trudged on aimlessly, not knowing whether to look for Kassie or sulk in the security of his tent.
He joined a stream of others moving out of the crowd, following the girl in front of him automatically. Bruised and defeated, he felt the heaviness that had been dragging down his emotions all weekend leap eagerly into his thoughts. The suspicion that had taken root in the cafe just a month before had sprouted into an immovable fear that she would leave him.
Earlier she had casually announced her intention to resume travelling, festival hopping through Europe to follow her favourite bands. She hadn’t even tried to persuade him to join her this time. She attacked his imagination with her writhing and contorting body which jumped into his thoughts instantly. He stumbled to a halt as he pictured her dancing with other men, diving into mosh pits or sliding her way up onto their shoulders. Closing his eyes, Nathan dropped his head into his hands as if he could claw out his jealousy through his eyes. Part of him knew it was a hopeless cause. She enjoyed life with an urgency that Nathan couldn’t understand, content as he was with his comfortable life of study and relaxation.
He sighed and dragged his hands away to face the sunny evening and the man who had appeared inches away from his face. Yelping, Nathan leaped away from the stranger who had appeared so silently before him. People glanced in their direction, amused by Nathan’s unimpressive reaction. He felt his cheeks flush pink.
“What the hell do you want?” He snapped.
The man’s head tilted to the side and his forehead wrinkled as if he didn’t understand the question. Nathan huffed and tried to push passed him but the man didn’t move and Nathan stumbled back, surprised at the strength the lanky man possessed for the second time that day. A shadow fell across Nathan’s face as the man stepped towards him and he recognised the same man who had blocked his way during the gig. Nathan stepped back.
“Who are you?” he asked, “Are you following me?”
“Where do you go?” the man managed to stutter.
“Where do I go for what?”
“Where do you go?”
Dark eyes darted about Nathan’s face, never quite settling on his own. Nathan brushed his hand through his hair in frustration and turned to squeeze passed a couple on his right when something slammed into his back. The man’s strength was greater than he had considered and he pulled Nathan towards him easily.
“What the hell?!” Nathan yelled as the man brought his face close.
“Where do you go?” He insisted.
Not taking time to respond, Nathan slammed his foot into his attacker’s shin. Rage engulfed the man’s face instantly and Nathan was thrown to the floor with a snarl.
He watched in disbelief as the man marched towards him, his lanky form towering above Nathan, furious eyes pinning him to the floor. He reached down to grasp him and Nathan’s mind was silenced with the fear of what this madman intended to do when other arms came to his rescue. Two men pulled his attacher back quickly and locked him in a bear hug. Rage fell from the man’s face instantly and he blinked at the strong arms gripping him. Despite the strength the man had shown just moments before, he didn’t resist.
“Hey man, are you all right?”
Nathan tore his eyes away from the man to find a sea of strangers staring down at him. Nodding at one of the men who had come to his rescue, he pulled himself up quickly and brushed the dust off his clothes. The man’s blank eyes continued to follow him wordlessly. He experimented with pulling his arms away but was shoved roughly to the floor. Nathan felt the curious stares of a hundred strangers pressing down at him and his cheeks flushed a little pinker, yet no matter where he turned he could still feel the dark eyes boring into his back. The crowd let him escape. He pushed passed the strangers to the concerned calls of his rescuers behind him.
He spent the next thirty minutes trying to convince himself he wasn’t hiding as he sat between food stalls, stretching his legs out against the grass. Hoping Kassie had been listening when he had organised the meeting place, he watched the crowds massing below him in the last of the evening sun, and stubbornly ignored the worm of anxiety that was burrowing through his stomach.
The sky slowly darkened as the sun sank behind the stage. Nathan watched it descend through heavy eyes, content to let the last of the evening warmth distract him from his poor weekend. His eyes drifted over the hundreds below, all washed with an optimistic golden glow. As he wondered whether Kassie was still among them, her perfume haunted his senses.
“Where the hell have you been?” He demanded as he turned watch her flop to the ground beside him.
She didn’t respond, her lungs too busy gulping in oxygen while her eyes scanned the crowd below with an urgency he didn’t understand.
“Have you been running?”
Her cheeks were flushed pink and sweat glistened against the glittery butterfly she’d had painted on her cheek that morning.
“Kassie?” He prompted when she didn’t drag her eyes away from the shuffling, growing crowd, “What’s wrong?”
“Please just listen to me Nathan,” she began slowly, flicking her eyes to his without hiding the panic that consumed them, “We need to leave straight away.”
Nathan blinked at her, “We still have another day here.”
“Nathan please just do as I say. We don’t have time to argue about this,” she continued.
His anxiety sparked into irritation and his voice dropped, “These tickets cost a fortune Kassie, we’re not leaving just because you got into trouble. What could you have possibly done in one hour?”
“Nathan,” she growled, blue eyes igniting with anger.
He pressed his lips together, “Kassie.”
It wasn’t often his girlfriend gave in. Nathan tried to mask his surprise as she pushed herself to her knees before him and sighed.
“There’s this man…” She snapped quickly, “You remember that ex of mine I told you about?”
Nathan nodded warily, already regretting the conversation.
“There’s a man here who, well, works for him I suppose. He saw me earlier and will be looking for me so we have to leave before he finds me.”
Nathan stared at her in disbelief. The wild girl he had fallen in love with who had travelled the world, lived in countries he hadn’t even heard of and crowdsurfed her way to adventure was not the type to be intimidated by an ex boyfriend. Yet as he stared at her panting chest, he recognised the fear in the fingers that dug into the flesh of her knees, the tension pulling across her shoulders and the eyes that darted to the left every time someone walked passed them.
“All right,” he sighed, her anxiety melting his anger as effectively as her coyness usually did, “We’ll pack down the tent as soon as the band finish.”
“Nathan you’re not listening to me. We have to go now. No band. No tent. Now!”
“Oh come on Kassie!” he exclaimed, making her jump and glance over her shoulder, “There are thousands of people here. What are the chances you’ll bump into him again?”
“High.” She growled through gritted teeth, “Since he’s looking for me.”
“You’re telling me that this guy came all the way here, spent a bloody fortune on a ticket just because his mate is still obsessed with you? Isn’t that just a little hard to believe?”
For the first time since he met her, Kassie was silent. He didn’t like it.
“It’s just I spent a lot of money on this weekend,” he muttered, as she sat unmoving, her eyes staring into his with contempt, “and so far it, well it hasn’t really been all that fun. Why let your ex ruin it completely? If we bump into this guy, he’ll have to go through me, yeah?” He ignored the break in his voice that mocked his words and tried to smile at her encouragingly.
“And if he finds you,” she replied calmly, “he will kill you.”
It was Nathan’s turn to be silent, glancing away when he couldn’t hold her gaze. The sun’s comforting glow finally surrendered to the horizon, dropping the scene into a moment’s darkness before floodlights snapped on to mock the warm evening with their coldness. Panic engulfed him with the changing light and for the first time since he had met her, Nathan needed to get away.
Fear pushed him to his feet. Not knowing where he was going he looked around him wildly. He didn’t notice Kassie do the same until she slammed him into the stall behind them. The woman behind the counter glanced at them in irritation before continuing to count change.
“What the hell?!”
“Nathan, he is dangerous. I did not exactly say goodbye and he does not forgive easily. When I say this man will kill you, I am not being dramatic.”
“That’s not funny,” he murmured, though he knew she wasn’t joking. He felt naked under the penetrating gaze, one that was eerily familiar to another he had seen that evening.
“He will kill you Nathan, whether or not I am with you at the time.”
“What does he look like?” he whispered, but Nathan already knew.
“You’ll know when he finds you,” she replied quietly.
“Where did you go?” He asked suddenly, another fear fluttering in his chest to battle with the raw terror the man with the long hair had unleashed in him, “After the gig, why did it take you so long to find me?”
She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. Her silence told Nathan enough and part of him crumbled at the realisation that, however briefly, she’d left him. Mortified at the tears he felt invade his eyes, he turned his head as his vision blurred, but not before he’d seen him.
“Kassie,” he barked in warning, scrubbing the moisture from his face as Kassie snapped her head around to be caught in the man’s eye line. His stillness stood out sharply against the waves of partygoers laughing, dancing and stumbling towards the different stages. Nathan grabbed Kassie’s hand with a terror that had never possessed him before but she didn’t move.
Nathan watched the world fall away from her as it had done so many times before. Trapped in his gaze, she didn’t move as Nathan tugged at her. This was who she had been looking for, he realised. All this time she had been waiting for this man to find her.
“Kassie!” he begged and she moved.
Without warning, she spun on the spot, stumbling as colour and noise slammed her back into the present but Nathan’s hand kept her grounded and then they were running. They sprinted faster than Nathan thought he could, weaving between food stalls and barging through dusty rockers. As he locked his gaze onto the large gate that led towards the campsites, his arm jerked painfully and Kassie was dragging him in the other direction, away from the only exit.
“Kass?” He gasped warily as they charged towards the ocean of humans massing before the stage.
“He can’t smell us in the crowd!” She yelled in response.
He didn’t have time to question her before they were bowling into the crowd. People were thrown in all directions but they were gone by the time the angry calls pursued them, wading through the field of sweaty strangers with a mad desperation. Hope glittered in his chest as they reached halfway in a matter of minutes. They would be out the other side and close to the gate before the man could hope to locate them in the mass of strangers. Then the base dropped.
Their hiding spot transformed into a maelstrom of writhing bodies and pounding feet as the final band took to the stage. The tide of sweaty bodies dragged him backwards, closer their pursuer. He planted his feet against the earth and tried to resist but the force of a hundred exhilarated fans charging together was too much and he stumbled further and further into the raging centre.
A rogue fist impacted with his cheek and he was flung to the floor, dust flying upwards around him under the punishment of a thousand pounding feet. Having been to enough concerts to realise his danger, he tried to scramble up when a heavy boot crushed his hand. He cried out in pain but no one heard him. Reaching up with burning fingers, he grabbed an arm and clawed his way to his feet. He sucked in a deep breath but the air was already filled with sticky humidity and it did little to recharge his lungs.
Fists punched high into the air and Nathan was desperate to get out, to climb to the surface and gulp fresh air. Bodies knocked into him endlessly as he spun on the spot, searching helplessly for the bright splash of blond that would guide him to his girlfriend.
Move move move!
His brain screamed at him but he didn’t know where to run. He didn’t even know what direction he had last seen her. He spun on the spot but saw only pulsing bodies, waving hands, and punching fists marring the sky. The man could be anywhere, he could be feet away from them, he could have Kassie already.
“Kassie!” He yelled in panic but no one heard him. He couldn’t even hear himself. The air was on fire with electric melodies that crackled through the roaring crowd. Nameless faces screwed eyes shut, lips following the guitar solo with the same passion they had sung the lyrics. Then, a face he knew.
The man couldn’t stand out more amongst the storm of writhing bodies, bare chests and exulted faces. He stood motionless and pristine, commanding space around him without the crowd even noticing he was there.
Pushing and shoving with a strength he didn’t realise he had, the crowd let him pass, retreating under the savagery of his desperation. He’d lost Kassie. Knowing he would not find her now he focused on getting as far away from the madman as possible but, oh God, he’d lost Kassie.
It was his last thought before he dived into the sudden space that appeared before him. His mind was silenced with horror as he fell directly into the long haired man. Before Nathan could comprehend how quickly the man had flanked him, he slammed his palm into Nathan’s shoulder. Fingers dug into his flesh, pinching skin and dragging Nathan towards him for the second time that day.
The man’s face was expressionless as he wrapped his other hand around Nathan’s throat, Nathan’s own eyes bulging in disbelief. With the man’s hair loose around his shoulders, he resembled a wild animal as he slowly squeezed his hand tighter. Nathan tried to gasp in shock before he realised he couldn’t. He couldn’t breath. Oh god, he couldn’t breath.
Clawing desperately at the hand that was crushing his airwaves, Nathan kicked and pushed and pulled, ripping at skin, grabbing cotton shirt, pulling hair, scratching at eyeballs in his final desperate moments. The man managed to smile.
The world began to darken and Nathan’s mind clung to the scene in desperation, as if committing every sight, smell and shadow to memory might prevent him from losing them. The crowd still moved, lyrics chanted in unison, happy eyes turned to the stage, oblivious to the murder than was happening beside them. Nathan’s favourite song battled desperately against the muffled pounding in his ears and he clung to it, focusing on each note, drum beat, key change and lyric he knew by heart. It was then that Nathan realised what was about to happen while the thing before him couldn’t hope to.
Anticipation spread through the crowd. Legs shifting in the dirt, arms clawing the air, muscles tensing as the music built, and built, raising and raising in tempo. Nathan prayed he would live long enough to hear it break. The man’s grip somehow tightened even further and yet still the tempo built. Lyrics were chanted, battling the amps as a thousand voices sung as one.
His vision darkened until just a dim tunnel remained of those dark, terrifying eyes and all Nathan could cling onto was the pounding, not knowing if it was the music or his heart as it built and built and built. The band, exulted by their power over the crowd drew out the moment, letting it grow longer than Nathan could hold out for. The dark eyes vanished and blackness drove into his vision as Nathan drifted from the moment.
The base dropped.
The crowd erupted.
Bodies slammed into each other, mosh pits formed instantly as an ocean of bodies jumped and slammed into the earth together. Not even the calm man before him could prevent people from flinging themselves into him, the music’s command over them greater than his own.
Chaos loosened the man’s grip and Nathan sucked in precious oxygen quickly as around them possessed fans danced, jumped and dived. A body slammed happily into the long haired man and the two men were thrown sprawling onto the floor, still locked together.
Nathan tumbled after the man into the dirt, followed immediately by others who were sucked into the sudden vacuum. Bodies fell on top of Nathan helplessly and then the world was dark once more. Yet this time he could feel the torn earth and smell the dirt and breath again. But the sudden rush of oxygen wasn’t enough as now his chest was crushed by the weight of those on top of him. He needed to see the sky but the pounding in his head made it impossible to know which way was up. The precious oxygen couldn’t fill his empty airwaves and now he was sucking dirt into his gasping lungs. Coughing, he pushed at the bodies around him weakly, begging for help.
Then, a hand on his wrist and he was pulled into the world once more. The stranger dragged him to his feet, patted him on the shoulder and reached down to help another stand up. People all around them had stopped dancing to pull grateful strangers from the crush of bodies.
Despite his swimming head and burning lungs, he started running again. Shakily stumbling away from the strangers who had saved his life and praying he was running in the right direction, praying for the world to stop spinning.
“Nathan!” Kassie’s voice, as pure as the oxygen that swept through his lungs once again, haunted him it sounded so close.
How could he hear her? He couldn’t hear anything.
Then he realised that it was because she was close. She was right next to him. She was grabbing his hand and looking at him with terror.
Then they were running. Nathan anchored in the moment by the small hot hand engulfed in his.
So Nathan’s got himself into a little pickle. What do you think people? Who is chasing them? What is Kassie up to? Join the discussion here or comment on the website.
Have you ever struggled so hard on a piece of writing/art that you couldn’t bare to scrap? How did you get through it? Cider and the Gladiator soundtrack?